U.S. biologists led by Prof James Westwood of the Virginia Tech’s Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology and Weed Science have found that parasitic plants can communicate with their hosts on a molecular level, according to sci-news.com. Prof Westwood and his colleagues examined the relationship between the parasitic plant Cuscuta pentagona, commonly known as dodder, and two host plants – Arabidopsis and tomatoes.
In order to suck the moisture and nutrients out of the host plants, dodder uses an appendage called a haustorium to penetrate the plant.
The scientists have previously found that during this parasitic interaction, there is a transport of RNA between dodder and its host.
The new study, published online in the journal Science, expands the scope of this exchange and examines the messenger RNA (mRNA), which sends messages within cells telling them which actions to take, such as which proteins to code.
It was thought that mRNA was very fragile and short-lived, so transferring it between species was unimaginable.
But Prof Westwood’s team found that during this parasitic relationship, thousands upon thousands of mRNA molecules were being exchanged between both plants, creating this open dialogue between the species that allows them to freely communicate.
Prof Westwood said: “the discovery of this novel form of inter-organism communication shows that this is happening a lot more than any one has previously realized. Now that we have found that they are sharing all this information, the next question is: what exactly are they telling each other?”
He added: “through this exchange, the parasitic plants may be dictating what the host plant should do, such as lowering its defenses so that the parasitic plant can more easily attack it.”